Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

How not to manage communication

Last Friday, over dinner with a professional acquaintance – a mid-career professional lady, the words: ‘communication 101’ were used

Messaging can get foggy for us all - when is it intentional and not?
Messaging can get foggy for us all – when is it intentional and not?

Those of you familiar with the ‘101 course’ concept will know that it’s used to identify introductory courses at University – or the ‘xxxx for dummies’ as some people like to call it.

It dawned on me that I was not communicating succinctly, to the frustration of the other party. And we do this all the time – at the individual, team, and organisational level.

We not only dish out intolerable, unclear, foggy communication to people we relate to, but the other party is also not always in a position to put out a ‘communication 101’ Mayday call against the fuzzy communicator

Now – it’s also true that my professional acquaintance may have opted to deliberately not understand what I was saying or that I was deliberately philosophical in my communication that night. Unclear communication may be intentional on the part of the giver or the receiver.

The good news is that communication unclarity at the individual level is easy to correct – the receiver can ask the giver to clarify, correct, elaborate what is unclear to them and this is more often than not, done in real time. Indeed, while still at the dinner table, my professional acquaintance’s ‘communication 101’ Mayday call was answered – and we both left the dinner table on message

However, communication unclarity at the team and organisation levels is more complex to resolve and costly – it takes away company bottom line value and needs remedying as soon as it surfaces or if at all possible, not allowed to happen

Communication unclarity at the modern company:

Often times, the owners of an organisation define the vision for the organisation. It then becomes the job of the operating units and their leaders to operationalize the vision of the owners via:

  1. A mission statement
  2. Organisational goal/s
  3. Organisational Strategy
  4. Objectives and milestones
  5. Outcomes that align to the vision

So in effect – the owners communicate the vision to the executive and non-executive directors; the executive and non-executive directors communicate the mission, goal and strategy to the second-tier managers; the second tier managers work with their units to operationalize the mission, goal/s and strategy by developing objectives and milestones that align with the overall mission and goal. The end product are outcomes that align with the vision of the owners

More often than not, the owners communicate the vision in a succinct manner. The directors operationalize the vision via the mission, goal, etc.

Unfortunately, at the strategy and objectives levels, communication unclarity creeps in. Leaders and managers, perhaps pressed by the dynamics of a fast moving, 24/7 and turbulent contemporary company, fall prey to the cacophonous noises in the business environment. Leaders have to be at their best to identify such unclarity and it’s negative effect on business value chains

Communication unclarity in context:

There are two types of communication unclarity:

  1. Intended unclarity
  2. Unintended unclarity

Leaders and managers are familiar with the occasional need to create a smoke-screen to either divert attention away from a pressing challenge, buy time, or simply disorient an opponent. Lawyers and politicians have perfected the art of smoke-screening and the habit has served them well

Trump’s White House has invented another domain of communication unclarity – i.e. #alternativefacts

The above two scenarios are examples of intended unclarity

On the other hand, and of concern to the classic leader and manager, is the unintended unclarity. The harbinger’s of unintended communication unclarity can do a lot of harm to the organisation’s value chain and bottom line.

  • They usually are not aware that they are unclear in their communication
  • They will leave the many individuals and teams they interact with confused and off-balance
  • Individual and team confusion causes de-focusing, doubt, and subsequently the loss of traction
  • Lost traction undermines organisational productivity

It should be noted that a leader can be a consummate communicator but still suffer communication unclarity. The latter situation is possible because communication clarity is built on a firm foundation of:

  1. Consistent, cohesive and well-integrated vision – mission – goal – strategy – and objectives
  2. A leader’s or manager’s comprehension of 1 above as well as sustained consistency in the manner they communicate/message the five variables in 1 above

Therefore, a leader or manager without a good command of 1 & 2 above may communicate and pretty well at that, yet still leave many confused and off-balance

The ultimate cost of communication unclarity manifests in:

  • Confused, frustrated & less productive staff
  • High staff turnover
  • Organisational value loss

Leaders and managers: always look back at the vision – mission – goal – strategy – and objectives of the organisation and ask if your communication is on or off message.

Since unintended communication unclarity is something deeply personal, those affected by the vice may benefit from support from a leadership coach or objective self-reflection, acceptance of the problem and self-correction

Last Friday, I coached self and got back on message; can you do the same thing like me? If not, seek help


2 responses to “How not to manage communication”

  1. Well said AG …sometimes communication u clarity can really affect the any message is perceived. The intentions and the reactions at times fail to match due to this lack of clarity.
    Leaders should try all the can to eliminate this lack of clarity to ensure we have 21st century institutions that are guided and grounded in firm and rational principles.

    Very nice article. Keep up the good work


    1. Veronicah – thanks for reading the blog. I think this is a subject me and you should discuss over coffee the next time you are in nairobi – true?


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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